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Suit filed against City of Eugene over park rules alleges they discriminate against the homeless

Man sleeping in park.
Brian Bull
A homeless man sleeps in the Park Blocks area of downtown Eugene, Sept. 2023.

The City of Eugene is the focus of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of its park rules, on behalf of the local homeless population.

Both plaintiffs in the case – Sam Yergler and Nicholas Hollows - have been previously arrested and banned from city property. They say under existing rules, officials can confront, fine, jail, and exclude those who simply want a place to temporarily rest, or those who speak out against unfair practices.

Last year at the opening of the new riverfront park, Yergler interrupted a speech by city officials to complain about the development’s expense, and sweeps of homeless encampments by police. The City of Eugene dropped its charges against him in January.

Hollows was present at a sweep of a homeless camp at Washington Jefferson Park in November 2021, and questioned authorities as to where a displaced camper should go. After being initially arrested for interfering with police, the city dropped a criminal charge and an exclusion order against Hollows in the following months.

Marianne Dugan is the Senior Civil Attorney Director for the Civil Liberties Defense Center, which is representing Yergler and Hollows in U.S. District Court.

“They’re not seeking money damages, they’re not seeing any punishment or any compensation for themselves,” she told KLCC. “They’re seeking a declaration that these rules are unconstitutional and an injunction to stop future enforcement of the rules.”

Dugan says a couple of rules in particular are vague, and can be used against the estimated 4,563 homeless people in Lane County.

A spokesperson for the City of Eugene said the lawsuit is under review and that the city would have no comment at this time.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the name of Marianne Dugan's organization. KLCC regrets the error.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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